Special Session and Senate Bill 7: What does it mean for Texas voting rights?

Sierra Rodriguez
Category:
Social Policy

The Texas voting rights fight has massive national implications that should not be overlooked. Texas has a long history of voter suppression. Going back to the anti-abolitionist, Jim Crow, and the “Eagle Eye” movements, Texans of color have long been the target of voter restriction bills passed by the white establishment. Today, there is a new wave, by the white establishment — now embodied by the Texas Republican party — to restrict the right to vote. This new wave of voting restrictions comes on the heels of two historically close elections, during the 2018 and the 2020 electoral cycles. The national voter fraud debate has been on everyone’s minds due to the former president’s dubious behavior on the subject.  However, despite mountains of Texas voter data, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has only flagged 23 cases of fraud throughout the State of Texas from the 2020 election cycle. There were over 11 million voters who turned out during the election, meaning less than 0.0002% of votes cast were possibly fraudulent. This begs a question: Why are Texas Republicans putting such an emphasis on protecting ballots and voting when there is a complete absence of proof that such fraud is widespread or systemic in Texas? Political Scientists offer numerous theories, one of which revolving around the white establishment’s desire to keep power by limiting certain voters. Along with looking into this theory,I will also focus on the facts surrounding the voting restriction bill in Texas, why a special legislative session is needed in Texas to pass it, and why everyone — nationwide — should be concerned about the voting-related events occurring in the Texas state legislature.

Since the introduction of SB 7 to the Texas Senate, it has been polarizing. Democrats have been arguing that this voter ‘suppression’ bill has the goal of targeting communities of color. On the other hand, Republicans have been arguing that it would work to secure our elections and prevent illegal immigrants or those in favor of certain candidates from supposedly ‘rigging’ elections. The arguments reflect the deep divide between both parties, and this bill is symptomatic of that. 


The idea that Republicans are concerned with the issue of ‘rigging’ an election is quite an interesting spin given their antics following the results of the 2020 election. During the 2020 election, many Republicans widely spread the baseless claim that the election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden and the Democrats. However, without supporting evidence and losing every court battle on the issue, the reality is that Republicans not only lost the presidency but also control of the Senate. This power loss rocked the Trump base of the party, leading to the January 6th insurrection in the Capitol. The reason why so many people have bought into the idea of the election being ‘rigged’ through widespread voter fraud is that the former President and his allies have perpetuated the “Big Lie.” Thankfully, only about 30% of voters believe the election was rigged, which means an overwhelming majority of the country is not buying into the “Big Lie.” But, this false propaganda still festers, especially in Red states, like Texas.


Unsurprisingly, this voting fraud alarm and the supposed need to limit voting rights is not new to the American experience. Since the founding of our Republic, white men in power have worked relentlessly to prevent various groups of people who they perceive as threats from voting. Today, the Republican Party has a predominantly white, male, and uneducated coalition that feels threatened by inexorable racial and demographic changes happening in our country. The rising voting threat of the youth vote, people of color, and women gaining political control concerns them as these groups do not value white power. Thus, the Republican Party’s perpetuation of the voting fraud lie is an effort to secure specific electoral outcomes that preserves their power during their long descent into demographic minority status. 


This reality is apparent in the Texas Republicans’ failed Senate Bill 7(i.e., the Elections Integrity Act). The bill is structured in a way that it would limit the current voting system by hindering the ability to vote for low-income voters, young voters, and voters of color. The bill would specifically target these voters by limiting after-hours voting, ballot drop off, drive-through voting, and Sunday voting (i.e., Souls to the polls). It will also prevent counties from working with GOTV (Get out the Vote) groups, and impose criminal penalties on those who prevent poll watchers from helping ‘secure’ elections. Souls to the Polls is a tradition among many churches of color to go to vote after church service, meaning the limitation of Sunday voting would disproportionately affect voters of color. The arguments behind creating this provision are factless, as Sunday voting is just as secure as voting on any other day of the week. Furthermore, other imposed limits on voting would hurt those low-income voters, typically of color, who are not able to go vote during the workday, and would drive up the wait times at locations that already have long wait times. At Texas Southern University, the wait time to vote is already upwards of 6 hours. In addition to these time-based targets, Republican lawmakers have been previously closing down polling locations in predominantly communities of color and surrounding areas. 


This bill was an 11th-hour attempt by the Republican Party to ram through its voter suppression agenda. The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature knew that the bill would face strong opposition from the Democratic Party, and the decision to wait until the last minute was strategic. However, this strategy backfired due to an ingenious move by Democrats in the Legislature that was inspired by Democratic Freshman Rep. Jasmine Crockett who incentivized her Democratic colleagues to join her in walking out when the bill was called to a vote to ensure its failure, due to a lack of quorum to hold the vote. As reported by the 19th News, Jasmine told her colleagues to “walk like they’re going to pass the bill,” she went on to add, “you don’t need to sit there and watch them do it.” The national implication of this political move is that it has bought President Biden and the U.S. Congress time to pass a new voting rights bill aiming at counteracting what the Texas Legislature and many Republican-controlled state legislatures nationwide are attempting with their voting restriction bills. Alexandria King, Powered by Youth Founder and Texas voting rights advocate, notes that the act of walking out of the vote was important because “it shows unity within the Texas Democratic Party and draws attention to what should be a bipartisan issue.” Voting rights expansions ultimately help both parties and protect our democratic process.


Despite this success, the fight is not over. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called a special legislative session to get the bill passed. Following the House Democrats’ walk-out, Abbot announced he was defunding the Legislature’s budget package, stating there will be “no pay for those who abandon their responsibilities”. Thus, the fight has only just begun.


Following the Democrat’s walkout, and Abbott’s actions, Democrats are in a bind in terms of preventing the bill from ultimately passing. Texas Democrats have resorted to putting pressure on President Biden by flying up to visit Vice President Kamala Harris and talking with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, the only Democrat who was against passing HR 1 the For The People Act. They have also marched with notable politicians, such as former Presidential and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and former Presidential candidate and HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Texas Democrats held a rally that drew thousands of people to the Texas capital on June 20 . Unfortunately, it was to no prevail as the Republicans in Congress were able to strike down the For the People Act. However, due to the pressure that Texas Democratic leaders are putting on Joe Machin, alongside the President, he has somewhat changed his position and now wants to introduce a bill himself in the fight for voting rights, which could ultimately neuter SB 7 and other bills like it. 


There currently are over 361 voter suppression bills introduced in 47 states. Voting rights are in the process of being stripped nationwide, and Texas Democrats are refusing to stand idly by and let that happen in their home state. They have shown great courage in standing up and showing politicians nationwide how to resist and frustrate cynical Republican lawmakers who are willing to undercut our democracy in order to preserve white power. As the political game rages on, ‘we the people’ must remember who we are as a nation and understand that playing with people’s voting rights is not a game.

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Sierra Rodriguez

Sierra Rodriguez is a native born Texan, and is a rising sophomore at American University in Washington D.C. Sierra is a Political Science Major and will graduate with certificates in Advanced Leadership Studies, Women, Policy, and Political Leadership, Community-Based Research, and CITI Certificate for Social and Behavioral Research. Sierra has worked on numerous Texas political campaigns and, currently, is working with prominent former Presidential and Senate Candidate Beto O'Rourke. Sierra is volunteering on Beto's new voter registration campaign, Powered by Youth, as an Intern and co-leads its Outreach Executive Director team. At American University, Sierra is the class of 2024 Vice President, Leading Women of Tomorrow E-Board Liaison, Days for Girls Treasurer, and AU College Dems Deputy Director of Field Campaigns.